What is frostbite?

A Answers (7)

  • When a person comes in contact with extremely cold materials or is exposed to cold weather for too long, the person's skin can freeze. This condition is known as frostbite. Frostbite usually affects the body's extremities, such as toes and fingers, or exposed body parts, such as the nose or ears. Because the tissue underneath the skin also freezes, gangrene (dead tissue) can develop as well.

  • ARealAge answered

    Frostbite, the freezing of the skin and underlying body tissues, is caused by prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures. A frostbitten area is cold, hard, numb and pale. If treated quickly, frostbite should have no long-term effects. However, if not treated quickly, frostbite can affect deep tissues and may require surgical intervention.

    Frostbite can occur after exposure to extreme cold temperatures for a few hours. If the weather is windy, frostbite is even more likely to occur. People who are taking beta-blocker medications and people with atherosclerosis are particularly susceptible to frostbite, as these conditions decrease the flow of blood to the skin. Boots and gloves that are too tight can also constrict the blood flow to the feet and hands and thus make frostbite more likely.

    Frostbite most frequently occurs in the body extremities, such as the fingers, hands, feet, nose and ears, but frostbite can occur in any area of the body. Frostbite can occur very suddenly, or slowly. If an area of your body starts to feel tingly, painful or numb from the cold, stop what you are doing and warm the affected area. Get out of the cold as soon as possible.

    The best way to protect yourself from frostbite is to dress appropriately and to be sensitive to the early signs of frostbite. 

  • AHealthwise answered

    Frostbite is freezing of the skin and tissues below the skin. It occurs when a person is exposed to freezing temperatures [32°F (0°C)] or lower for too long.

    How severe the frostbite is depends on how long the person was exposed to cold, the temperature, the windchill, and the humidity. Frostbite is most likely to occur on the feet, hands, ears, nose, and face. Men may have frostbite of the genitals if they do not dress properly.

    Doctors rate frostbite by degree of severity:

    First-degree frostbite

    First-degree frostbite freezes part of the outer layer of skin. Symptoms include:

    • Tingling, stinging, or burning pain.
    • Red skin or, less often, the skin is white, yellow, or pink-blue instead of red.
    • Mild swelling.
    • No blisters.
    Second-degree frostbite

    Second-degree frostbite is freezing of all layers of the skin. Symptoms include:

    • Numbness followed by aching and throbbing pain.
    • Hard and frozen outer skin.
    • Blisters filled with clear or milky fluid. Blisters form within 6 to 24 hours.
    • Red, swollen skin around blisters.
    Third-degree frostbite

    Third-degree frostbite is freezing of deep layers of skin and tissues below the skin. Symptoms include:

    • White, pink-purple, or blue-gray skin.
    • Hard and frozen skin that "feels like a block of wood."
    • Blisters that look like they are filled with blood.
    • Numbness followed by burning, throbbing, or shooting pain.
    Fourth-degree frostbite

    Fourth-degree frostbite is freezing of muscles, tendons, and bones. Symptoms include:

    • Patches of red or blue skin that turn dry, black, rubbery.
    • Little or no swelling.
    • Blisters that may appear as small blood spots under the skin.
    • Deep, aching joint pain.

    Pain may be severe as the frostbitten skin rewarms. Swelling and blisters are common after rewarming.

    Medical treatment for frostbite includes relieving pain and quickly rewarming the frostbitten area. This can help prevent problems such as infection, dead tissue, or amputation of the frozen part.

    This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. To learn more visit

    © Healthwise, Incorporated.

  • AMehmet Oz, MD, Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease), answered
    Frostbite is the freezing of the skin and tissues just beneath the skin. This is most often seen in small parts of the body such as fingers, toes, and nose. Mild forms are called frost nip, and are not serious enough to seek medical attention. More extreme cases require swift medical treatment.

  • Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.

    The presence of the CDC logo and CDC content on this page should not be construed to imply endorsement by the US Government of any commercial products or services, or to replace the advice of a medical professional. The mark “CDC” is licensed under authority of the PHS.
  • AAmerican Red Cross answered
    Frostbite is the freezing of body parts exposed to the cold. Severity depends on the air temperature, length of exposure, and the wind. Frostbite can result in the loss of fingers, hands, arms, toes, feet, and legs.
  • ALeigh Vinocur, MD, Emergency Medicine, answered
    Frostbite can occur in an exposed area of your body within 5 minutes when the temperature is between 0° and -19° Fahrenheit. This is when your tissue literally freezes with ice crystals forming within the tissue around the cells. Initially the top layer freezes, the skin becomes whitish-gray; if treated early, good recovery is expected.
    However if you continue to be exposed to the elements and the tissue freezes all the way through, it causes permanent damage to muscles, nerves and blood vessels. This is known as third-degree or deep frostbite. It behaves and is treated similar to a full thickness, third-degree burn. The skin is blotchy, bluish-black with blisters. Often, gangrene sets in and the area demarcates as well as auto-amputates, but if infection develops in the area that part has to be amputated also.
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